Wild Beasts (1984)
Wild Beasts (1984)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: February 15th, 1984 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Franco E. Prosperi Actors: Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Ugo Bologna, Louisa Lloyd, Stefania Pinna, Monica Nickel, John Stacy, Enzo Pezzu

 


 

I

n an unnamed, northern European City plagued by a drug problem, the film pushes the comical juxtaposition of water and the local zoo, shown in a montage that makes little sense. It’s presided over by loud, soulful saxophone music (the soundtrack throughout the rest of the movie is a mixture of pulsing techno riffs that never fit the action onscreen) and the sudden appearance of the title, boasting obnoxious red lettering with a zoom animation. Not so ludicrous, however, is the following sequence, which features the tigers being fed with gruesomely butchered horse parts.

Zoologist and taxidermist Dr. Rupert Berner (John Aldrich) and journalist Laura Schwarz (Lorraine De Selle) turn up the next morning to sedate Gladys the Tiger for some photographs. The typically graceful creature has been acting strange lately, killing off some of her young, though neither expert suspects a PCP-tainted water supply. Of course, these “experts” like to tap on the cages of the animals, which seems like a terribly unprofessional thing to do. But they’re distracted by talk of Laura’s troubled, misbehaving daughter Suzie (Louisa Lloyd), who could benefit from a father figure in her life, which Rick is keen to accommodate.

Within the first few minutes, Suzie is, quite astonishingly, introduced with a nude scene, which is definitely unexpected, considering the pointlessness of the shot and the fact that she’s considerably underage. A minute or two later, “Wild Beasts” becomes more exploitive, with a young couple undressing one another in the back of a car. “It’s too cramped in here.” Just as they open the door to stretch out a bit, a swarm of enraged rats pile into the vehicle, nipping at the lovers until they’re covered in blood. When the animals at the zoo follow suit, whipped into a frenzy by some unknown agitator, it’s not long before zookeepers are ripped to shreds by lions, cheetahs, bears, hyenas, and more.

These animal-attack sequences are amusingly edited, cutting between the predators roaring, the victims shrieking, and human bodies being torn apart limb by limb. Unsubtly, Laura attends a lecture about the possibility of animals taking revenge for their mistreatment – at the same time that the rabid critters commence their undiscerning slaughter of everyone they encounter. Other scenes have an eerily poetic quality, such as when a blind musician is assaulted by his pet dog (the bloodshed is given a pleasant musical accompaniment, morbidly composed by the victim himself), or when children make shadow puppets against a wall, eventually replaced by the silhouette of a ravenous polar bear. It’s also difficult not to admire the brutality of a later sequence in which a man is strangled by an elephant trunk, while his wife has her head squashed by its foot.

The dubbing is bad (Berner is called Rick, Rip, and Rupert at different times), the acting is mediocre, the dialogue is unconvincing, the characters are flimsy (Inspector Braun [Ugo Bologna] munches on popcorn and other snacks while on the job, as if he’s watching the movie rather than participating in it), and the story is shoddily constructed (produced by Federico Prosperi, and written and directed by Franco E. Prosperi), but the tone is mostly serious, which helps counter the abundance of deficiencies in filmmaking techniques (and all of the unintentional hilarity). It’s also notable that lots of real animals were used, many of them appearing as if in genuine distress – which is something newer movies could never get away with. Killer animal movies are rare, so this obscure Italian shocker presents an uncommon take on horror (perhaps an expanded vision of “The Birds”), which could make for a fun remake, given a decent budget and the significant advancements in technology since the early ‘80s.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10